The Trump Trifecta

October 26, 2018

Since taking office in January 2017, Donald Trump has stood with House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to proclaim various ‘victories’ for the American people.  Here are what seem to be the top three, A.K.A. “The Trifecta”:

  1. Complicit with Russia, Saudi Arabia and several other suspect regimes. Trump has continued to send public messages which downplay and/or absolve bad actors from behaviors which are contrary to existing international standards.

One clear reason:  Trump — and his close advisor Jared Kushner —  is involved in highly leveraged real estate development.  Neither Trump nor Kushner have the liquidity or availability of traditional financing sources to invest their own money.  Instead, they are forced to chase shady money from around the world, including huge sums of money sourced from Saudi Arabia, Russia, China, etc.

Essentially, Trump (along with the Kushner Companies) is beholden to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman; Vladimir Putin; various Chinese investors; along with ‘dark money’ sources in Cyprus, Panama and the Cayman Islands, among others.

2. The “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” (TCJA) was passed in late 2017 incorporating some modest temporary individual and small business tax cuts while focusing in on very substantial big business and corporate tax cuts.

Traditional economic models, developed and refined over countless economic cycles, encourage tax cuts and deficit spending during economic downturns as a means to stimulate economic growth.  During times of economic expansion, increased government revenue from tax collections is then used to pay down public debt and help stabilize the economy.

N.B.  There was a strong case to be made for a modest corporate tax cut as the U.S. economy began to improve post 2012; there was zero legitimate case to be made for the magnitude of the corporate tax cut which was a cornerstone of the 2017 TCJA.

The foundation of the TCJA was a promise that slashing corporate taxes from a maximum 35% rate to a 21% cap would result in dramatic increases in capital investment, resulting in job creation and wage growth.  Americans for Tax Reform, a vocal advocate for the plan, generated promises of employee bonuses, increased wages, increased retirement contributions and/or expanded business operations as a result of the TCJA.

Actual outcomes of the Tax Cuts?  Record stock buybacks; extraordinary executive compensation; flat employee compensation; and continued failure of venerable American corporations.

Definitive proof of the foolishness of cutting taxes in a time of economic expansion?  A rapidly expanding federal budget deficit.  According to the final monthly Treasury Statement for Fiscal Year 2018 (the year that ended on 9/30/2018), the deficit was $779 Billion — a $113 Billion (17%) increase over the$666 Billion deficit recorded from FY 2017.

Perhaps most egregious to the American people?  Mitch McConnell is blaming self-funded safety net programs [Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid] as the root cause of our rising federal deficit.  Visualize McConnell as he does a little smile; looks straight into the camera; and then blatantly lies to the American people.  Was he also lying when he took the Oath of Office?

3.  Incendiary, Irrational and Emotionally-Inspired Immigration Policy:

Right or wrong, the U.S. economy depends on immigrant workers – documented or undocumented. Industry sectors which rely on immigrants for between 1/4 and 1/2 of their employment needs include: agriculture; hospitality; construction; textile, apparel and leather manufacturing; food manufacturing; and private households.

Through a series of small moves that add up to dramatic change, the Trump administration has bypassed Congress to create new process and procedures which could have lasting effects on how the US welcomes and evaluates immigrants.

In his election campaign in June 2015, Trump told us, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists…”

By painting virtually all immigrants with a broad brush as criminals; as a national security threat to the U.S.; as bad people; as people who steal jobs from Americans;  he has created a hostile environment on the world stage, offering fear and fallacies with no attempt to find viable and sustainable solutions.

In late October 2018, facing a ‘caravan of migrants’ moving north from Central America toward the U.S. Southern border, Trump has proclaimed that there are ‘criminals and people of Middle Eastern descent among the migrants within the caravan’ and has pointed to it as evidence that the U.S. has weak immigration laws. He has also threatened to cut off aid to Central American countries in response to the caravan.

An internal report from the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General found that the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” crackdown at the border in early 2018 was troubled from the outset by planning shortfalls, widespread communication failures and administrative indifference to the separation of small children from their parents.

It has been said that the Trump Child Separation Policy is related to the worst abuses of humanity in history.  Child separation is connected by the same evil that separated families during slavery, and which dislocated tribes and broke up Native American families.

What’s the point?

The point is that differences of opinion are a cornerstone of society, and a critical ingredient of humanity.

The very essence of Debate relies on formal discussion on a particular topic.

In an honest debate, opposing arguments are put forward to argue for opposite  viewpoints. Genuine and honest debate can occur in public meetings, academic institutions, and in legislative assemblies.

A genuine debate requires some ground rules, particularly in the areas of logical consistency and factual accuracy, yet it also allows some degree of emotional appeal to the audience.

Sadly, today’s discussions on topics of importance to the American People seem to lack any rules about civility, logic or even factual accuracy.

Turn on the television and we find absolutism, tribalism and a “win at any cost” approach to delicate yet important societal issues. Dialogue has effectively been replaced by diatribe.

Worse, people can select news sources which support and reinforce their biases, finding comfort in “being right” by selective listening or watching. No time or need to consider other options when the platform has been fully developed to mirror your comfort zone.

Add to this dilemma the continuing disenfranchisement of American adults from the political process.

More adult males in America today are able to recite NFL statistics than are able explain issues facing American society, and women are not far behind.

Voter turnout in the United States fluctuates in national elections. In recent elections, about 60% of the voting eligible population votes during presidential election years, and about 40% votes during midterm elections. Turnout is lower for odd year, primary and local elections.

If we compare national voter participation in the 2016 presidential election to viewership of the 2016 Superbowl, we find a dead heat at around 112 Million.

Not necessarily the same people, but it does strike me that we have a real disconnect between the American public and our governance model, perhaps helping to explain why our system seems to be in need of some serious adjustments at this point in time.

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“We Fed an Island”

September 15, 2018

While U.S. President Trump continues to blame the people of Puerto Rico and their elected local leadership for delays, inefficiencies and various failures in the response to the aftermath of Hurricane Maria (2017), Trump is lavish with praise for the wonderful response by his administration.

“I think that Puerto Rico was an incredible, unsung success,” Mr. Trump said.  “I actually think it is one of the best jobs that’s ever been done with respect to what this is all about.”

Meanwhile, other sources do not agree with President Trump’s assessment.

One of the true unsung heroes involved in the Island’s recovery from Hurricane Maria is José Andrés, a chef and restaurateur who helped organize others from the food industry to form a veritable army comprised of both professionals and volunteers to feed residents, medical professionals and other disaster response workers.

A year after the initial response to Maria began, José Andrés has released a book reflecting on his experiences and lessons learned from the disaster response.

This article from the Washington Post describes his passion and introduces the book in a manner I wish I was able:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/food/jose-andress-riveting-we-fed-an-island-calls-for-a-revolution-in-disaster-relief/2018/09/05/b126d766-ad70-11e8-b1da-ff7faa680710_story.html?utm_term=.df529f66adc0

Our system of governance in the U.S. is highly dependent on the willingness and ability of citizens to elect leaders who will solve the problems and challenges of the current environment, and who will promote institutional adaptations in the long-term public interest.

Most of us will identify with the basic attributes scholars often point to as the foundation for effective public leaders: (1) Honesty; (2) Basic and Common roots; and (3) A reputation of high integrity and personal principles.

As I searched for the “secret sauce” of public sector leadership, I found a few terrific recipes.

My favorite might be, “If leadership has a secret sauce, it may well be humility. A humble boss understands that there are things he doesn’t know.”

Some contenders include,

“Good leaders motivate and encourage others.” Continued emphasis on controlling and/or reducing costs in the public sector puts extreme pressure on public sector employees.  Good leaders create supportive atmospheres and encourage initiative. They invest in their people and foster skill growth. And when employees are satisfied in a healthy environment, great results likely will follow.

“Good leaders communicate clearly and listen attentively.” When good leaders sincerely listen to the needs and challenges of their constituents, they can respond effectively and bring about the greatest positive change.

“Good leaders are trustworthy.” Trustworthiness is built upon integrity and character. When people trust leaders and value their integrity, they tend to be more open to new ideas and exude a willingness to try.

“Good leaders think critically and act collaboratively.” Effective decision makers employ careful consideration and analysis of the evidence before formulating a decision. Public sector decisions can have multi-generational impact, so using a team approach incorporating strong analytical, problem solving and critical thinking skills is essential to the job.

“Good leaders are resilient.” In the world of public policy and governance, the only constant is change. Uncontrollable external variables will create unexpected challenges. Good leaders remain positive; they develop alternative solutions; and they encourage confidence in their employees to help ensure they will remain effective at the most crucial times.

My greatest hope is that other fellow citizens of the U.S. will take a few minutes to step back and think about the strategic implications of leadership.

America’s Teachers

April 12, 2018

America’s teachers have notoriously been underpaid relative to their peer group. The excuses include, (a) Flexibility; (b) Summers off; (c) a profession dominated by women (and we all know that women earn about 80% of what men earn for comparable experience in similar jobs).

If I were a young person approaching college graduation, I might look at starting salary, and projections for advancement over the course of my career.

If I did that, teaching would not likely be on my list of job choices.

According to a study published by US News and World Report looking at the best jobs for 2018 college graduates, there are dozens of opportunities which absolutely blow away starting salaries for teachers, which seem to be in the $38k range.

One random example is an entry level Financial Analyst in the area of investment banking, private banking and the securities industry. The highest paid in the financial analyst profession work in the metropolitan areas of San Francisco, New York City, and San Luis Obispo, California. The Stamford /Bridgeport, CT area also pays well, as does the city of Salem, Oregon.

San Francisco      $141,840
New York City     $133,130
San Luis Obispo, CA  $120,750
Bridgeport (Stamford), CT   $120,520
Salem, Oregon            $120,150

These are median starting salaries for newly minted graduates.  What’s most egregious about this?

On a really good day, financial analysts provide zero economic value-added to our overall economy and society; on a bad day, they can cause catastrophic damage. Financial analysts produce no tangible outputs; they endeavor to discover and exploit financial opportunities to benefit their firm and its clients at the expense of other individuals.

Teachers bring value every day, yet they are generally under-respected and certainly, under-compensated. Teachers are the mechanism by which we build future intellectual capital to benefit future generations in and across the U.S.

Some may argue that this example attempts to pit Capitalism against Socialism:  Nice try on that one!

Pure capitalism relies on the premise that private capital, invested strategically, adds value to the overall economy and society, while providing a fair and reasonable profit to the capitalist(s).

Pure socialism requires a government controlled population of workers to both plan and operate the system; true socialism requires government control of all economic as well as political and public affairs.

By levying fair and reasonable income taxes on excess or suspicious profits, a nation is able to re-invest those taxes into strategic and forward-focused programs and initiatives, such things as: bridges; tunnels; airports; rail rapid transit; healthcare research and innovations; and public education – including teacher quality and teacher compensation.

Teachers need to re-focus their compensation and resource allocation argument toward pure economics.

It strikes me that the message needs to be:  “High quality, well-compensated teachers who are provided with appropriate and needed classroom resources help to shape and create the next generation of high-performance, highly motivated and productive citizens our nation will need to ensure future economic and political success.
There is no substitute for a ready and reliable supply of intellectual capital waiting in the wings to take charge in the coming decades.”

A half century ago, the Baby Boomer generation entered adulthood with plenty of energy and commitment to help make our world safer and better.  As they set forth to establish families of their own, careers and all of the rest, they faced some unexpected head winds.  The rapidity of technological change combined with growing economic and social divides put extraordinary pressure on these young families, and they became self-absorbed.

The direct socioeconomic impacts of American suburbanization didn’t really begin to take hold until the 1970’s.  The resulting economic and racial segregation shielded the next generation(s) of middle class young people growing up in suburbia, away from their less affluent peers who were left behind in urban neighborhoods. They lost touch with each other, not able to see common ground.

Somehow, things have begun to change for the positive.

Maybe Trump’s legacy will be as the unconscious ‘uniter’ of the people of good will — Americans who reject corruption, self-dealing and bullying — who regardless of hair color, height, weight, economics, gender, race, skin tone, religion, sexual orientation, learning and/or mobility differences, and many more… — refuse to participate in the Trump Swamp.

This emerging generation, evidenced by the Parkland students, are showing signs of unity under a new paradigm of The American Dream, where the principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are honestly and equitably recognized and applied.

To date, Trump has certainly distinguished himself as the polar opposite of genuine American values.

While it’s still too early to celebrate any victories, I am betting on the young people who have taken an active role in the March For Our Lives movement — and the millions of their supporters (average age 48!) — to continue to energize and inspire the vast majority of U.S. citizens and residents who want to see common sense prevail.

Here is a short snippet from an interview with New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn on The Brian Lehrer Show July 18, 2011:

“The Mayor and I have a good working relationship because that is what is in the best interests of the citizens of the City of New York for the Mayor and the Speaker to work together — every Mayor and every Speaker. And, for the Mayor and the Speaker to agree as much as they can, and when they can’t, to disagree agreeably…. That’s what the people deserve.”

Refreshing talk from an elected official in the U.S. circa 2011!

Some of our Congressional leaders – elected to Congress by their constituents, and appointed to those leadership positions by their colleagues – could greatly benefit from a lesson in civility and polite political discourse, if for no other reason than to serve as a positive example to our young people of responsible adult behavior.

Stop cyber-bullying in schools? One important ingredient is to show young people by example that public bullying and baseless political attacks are counter-productive.

Some of our elected officials in Washington seem to have lost sight of their responsibility to serve as positive examples to the next generation.

Is this too much to ask or to expect?